The two words most likely to start a fight in this society are "appropriate attire."

Never mind issues of morality or politics or religion. "You are what you deck yourself out to be" seems to be our most deeply held belief.

The emotional history of this century can be told in battles over such things as miniskirts and short pants, girls bobbing their hair and boys refusing to cut theirs, and the absence of shoes or the presence of earrings. What keeps the war going is fashion, which alters not only the conventional standard, but also the rebel uniform, thus preserving the illusion that the conflict is ever a fresh one.

Miss Manners has never actually heard anyone come out for the right to wear inappropriate attire. But a great many people (wearing blue jeans and T-shirts) are prepared to fight to the death against the stultifying idea of appropriate attire.

Most restaurants, churches, theaters, schools, offices and individuals giving parties have therefore abandoned the effort of requesting appropriate attire. When some institution does make a feeble attempt to mandate clothing more formal than that worn for the messier active sports, there are cries of violation of individual rights such as used to be reserved for political revolutions.

The United States U.S. Treasury Department recently suggested that its male employes have jackets within reach in which to meet the general public, and that its female employes wear dresses, skirts and blouses or sweaters, suits or pantsuits. The two traditional objections were immediately voiced:

That employes ought to be treated as adults.

That people should be permitted to express their individuality through their choice of dress.

What Miss Manners hears unspoken beneath this is the argument that there ought not to be any symbolism connected with dress. If no such interpretations can be made about the choice of clothing, then it stands to reason that each person may be safely left to make his or her choices dictated by individual taste or comfort.

Well and good -- but she has noticed that the very people who battle clothing standards accept the notion that clothing is symbolic. If anything, it is more of a "statement," not less, to wear sweat pants to the office or to somebody's formal wedding than it is to dress as expected.

Like it or not, we all interpret clothing choices in terms of age and of willingness to conform to group practices. Dressing up for church indicates respect; for a party, it shows stylistic cooperation with the hosts' plans; for a restaurant or theater, a sense of making a special occasion. Conformity not only in clothing but in the brand of clothing indicates peer acceptance to schoolchildren children, who, of course, are outraged at the very idea of school uniforms.

What should work clothing symbolize? That the work is in the hands of responsible adults.

By wearing outfits associated with adolescents or with leisure activities, grown-ups signify that they are not seriously committed to their jobs. And by stressing what they call individuality, they are distancing themselves from representing the organizations that employ them.

In her social life, Miss Manners is not sure she wants to cultivate people who symbolically sneer at their hosts or deliberately downgrade festive events. But she is positive that she does not want to do business with people who signal that they represent only themselves (and could therefore could not care less whether the company they work for satisfies the customers) and unwillingly at that (because they'd rather be off playing with the rest of the kids).

Q.While reading the paper, I ran across an article about siblings killing other siblings. Two of my close friends were named.

Jerry (not his real name) had killed his sister Sharon (ditto). I met them six years ago and when I moved a year ago, we lost contact.

I have gotten their mother's phone number, and would like to call and give condolences and visit Sharon's grave, so I need to find out its location.

How should I approach their mother, or is it rude of me to do so? I would also like to write Jerry. This is all very touchy and I don't want to cause anyone any more pain, but I'd like to contact them both.

A. No doubt this is a bit touchy. Being the mother of both the murderer and the victim is bound to give rise to mixed feelings.

When you call her, as Miss Manners admires you for doing, offer her your sympathy for "the tragedy" without going into any specifics. The bereaved are comforted to know that others appreciate their suffering, but seldom, even in less touchy cases, care to hear anyone put a moral to the story.